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This year’s Bay Rivers District softball season is likely to be highlighted by pitching, of which the area has plenty.
Warhill’s Keely Rochard, York’s Chelsea Evans, Tabb’s Alexis Gore and Grafton’s Kayley Cox are a small sampling of the pitching talent spearheading the Bay Rivers District.
Despite neither Warhill nor Grafton winning the Bay Rivers District last season — that distinction goes to Smithfield — both teams will be firmly ensconced in the top tier of the district.
Teams like Tabb and York will be in the second tier, having enough talent to challenge teams on a day-to-day basis.
The final grouping of teams, including Lafayette, Bruton and Jamestown, will be looking to improve after difficult seasons in 2015.
Below are preseason previews for every Historic Triangle softball team competing in the Bay Rivers District:
Head Coach: Kyle Cowles
2016 Classification: 2A Conference 33
2015 Record: 6-14
Players to Watch: Kelsey Sluss (senior, Util.), Lydia Albrecht (senior, P), Ashley Cordner (senior, INF), Rachel Brotherton (junior, Util.)
Season Outlook: Bruton had an emotionally draining offseason after the death of head coach Danny Williams. Taking over for Williams is Cowles, who was an assistant coach for the Panthers last year. Cowles inherits a team that went 6-14 last season, but showed some improvement from the year prior. While Bruton will have to replace its best player from last season, DaSha Hill, the Panthers return some key players at important positions. Albrecht returns as the starting pitcher for Bruton, while Sluss will also provide some help on the mound. When not pitching, Sluss will be bounced around to multiple positions. Cowles praised his team’s overall athleticism, predicting the Panthers would have a winning record this season and make a deeper run in the postseason.
Head Coach: Vanessa Young
2016 Classification: 4A Conference 19
2015 Record: 19-7
Players to Watch: Jessica Sprouse (senior, INF), Tara Deck (senior, INF), Kayley Cox (junior, P), Shannon Hallingstad (junior, INF)
Season Outlook: Grafton’s softball team had a taste of the state tournament last year, losing in the Group 4A semifinals to Woodgrove, and are hoping for a repeat trip this year. The Clippers will need to cope with losing seniors Christa Hall, a first-team All-State selection, Kerstin Roth and Marika Whitlatch. However, Grafton returns enough talent to once again be formidable in the district. The Clippers return Sprouse, a first-team All-State third baseman, and Deck, a second-team All-State shortstop. Those two players, now seniors, will be looked to for their leadership and ability to jumpstart the offense. Also returning is Cox, who earned second-team honors in Group 4A South last season as a sophomore. Grafton is adding six freshmen to this year’s roster, but Young is setting her sights on making the state tournament again as long as her veterans can mesh with the newcomers.
Head Coach: Jerry Varacallo
2016 Classification: 4A Conference 19
2015 Record: 3-18
Players to Watch: Tori Luedde (senior, OF), Jessica Mingo (senior, Util.), Arianna Reynolds (junior, P), Kailey Smith (junior, INF)
Season Outlook: After a disappointing season in which the Eagles won just three games, Jamestown returns nearly every starter from last year outside of a graduating senior Emily Saintmire. While Jamestown will not have to contend with roster turnover, the Eagles will need to show growth from last season is they want to compete in what appears to be a strong Bay Rivers District. Some of the bigger bats for Jamestown return, including Luedde, Smith, Mingo and Jamiyah Johnson. Also returning is Reynolds, the starting pitcher for Jamestown last season. Varacallo said Jamestown’s experience will be a major plus this season, but the Eagles could still struggle in the same areas as last season, mainly bunching together hits and scoring runs. Jamestown should be improved over last season, but that could still result in a long season for the Eagles.
Head Coach: Tim Jones
2016 Classification: 4A Conference 18
2015 Record: 0-19
Players to Watch: Gabby Boesler (senior, OF), Julia Jones (sophomore, P), Miya Richard (junior, OF), Jocelyn Zayas (senior, Util.)
Season Outlook: Lafayette has the unfortunate distinction of holding the longest losing streak in the Bay Rivers District. It’s a streak that dates back four seasons. Tim Jones, in his second year as Lafayette’s head coach, is hoping to break the losing streak this season with more a more experienced roster. Lafayette’s starting pitcher Julia Jones returns this season after starting 19 games as a freshman last season. While leading the Rams on the mound, Jones also had the team’s highest batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage. Also returning for the Rams is Boesler, a strong defensive player who will be relied upon in the field and at the plate. Tim Jones said Lafayette’s biggest offseason strides have come on defense, where the Rams are trying to significantly cut down on errors that plagued them last year. The Rams are still young, however, with 10 of 14 players on the roster listed as underclassmen. Displaying growth will be more important than logging wins this year for Lafayette.
Head Coach: Brian Verstynen
2016 Classification: 3A Conference 27
2015 Record: 9-11
Players to Watch: Kendall Wooddell (senior, INF), Alexis Gore (junior, P), Amber Verstynen (sophomore, OF), Madelyn Morinec (sophomore, INF)
Season Outlook: Tabb was one of the youngest teams in the Bay Rivers District last season, and that will continue to be the case this year. Despite just four upperclassmen on the roster, Tabb Coach Brian Verstynen said the Tigers return players at key positions and project to have a strong defense. A four-year starter, Wooddell will be relied upon to provide leadership to the younger players. Also returning this year is Gore, Tabb’s second-team All-Conference pitcher. Gore showed significant growth last year and should be one of the better pitchers in the district this year. Younger players like Amber Verstynen and Morinec gained valuable experience as freshmen last year and will provide a nice lift to the Tigers. Tabb should be improved this year, but how much remains to be seen.
Head Coach: Tom Bunn
2016 Classification: 3A Conference 25
2015 Record: 22-4
Players to Watch: Keely Rochard (junior, P), Haley Smith (senior, Util.), Olivia Schulz (sophomore, INF), Kieran McClure (junior, INF)
Season Outlook: After losing in the Group 3A state tournament semifinals, Warhill is returning a plethora of key players from last year’s team and should be in a position to make another deep run. The biggest returning player for the Lions is Rochard, a Virginia Tech commit and reigning first-team All-State pitcher. A true asset on offense and defense, Rochard posted a 13-3 record with 130 strikeouts and a 1.91 ERA last season, while also leading Warhill with 31 RBIs and five home runs at the plate. Also coming back are Smith and Schulz, both of whom who earned second-team All-State honors last season. With McClure also returning off a solid year, Warhill looks to have the most talented top-to-bottom infield in the Bay Rivers District. Replacing utility player Colby Norris will be tough, but if any team in the area is capable of reloading talent, it’s Warhill. It would not be a surprise to see Warhill make another state tournament, or potentially win it.
Head Coach: Ashley Meredith
2016 Classification: 3A Conference 27
2015 Record: 15-8
Players to Watch: Chelsea Evans (junior, P), Devon Smith (senior, INF), Destiny Martinez (senior, INF), Hayley Winfree (junior, INF)
Season Outlook: The Falcons finished last season with a stinging 10th-inning loss against Brentsville in the Group 3A East semifinal, ending York’s season one game shy of reaching the state tournament. In her second year at York, Meredith said this year’s team contains depth at important positions and is more experienced than last year’s group. Returning for the Falcons is Evans, who led York’s pitching rotation last season and will once again be the ace on this year’s staff. Evans, a St. Joseph’s University commit, has proven she can handle pitching against top-level hitters, which bodes well for her play in the Bay Rivers District. Also returning for the Falcons are experienced infielders Smith, Martinez, Winfree, Miranda Yokum and Katie Russell. With many veteran players returning this season, Meredith believes this year’s team has the talent to “make it deep into the post season.”